Head Like A Hole at Valhalla – 25th Anniversary Tour

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington Poster 25th Anniversary Tour

Head Like A Hole playing the album 13

w/ Hiboux

Saturday 20 May 2017

Valhalla, Wellington

A friend of mine has a story from when his band opened for Head Like A Hole many years ago. During HLAH’s set a naked man run onstage and stage dived off. He got consumed by the mosh pit, only to emerge from the midst of it right and the end of the night when the crowd had dispersed.

Imagine being part of that mosh pit. It’s hot. You’re enjoying the music and bouncing between other sweaty bodies. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an undressed man with flailing penis appears out of nowhere, blocking out the light and landing square on top of you.

My friend is now a priest, and although it isn’t very priestly to condone tales of rock n roll like this, he loves sharing it. He grins from ear to ear as he tells his story, giggling about wild times.

Of course Head Like A Hole have been known to perform naked and caked with mud in the past as well. Tonight was my first time seeing the band, and they were performing their début album 13 (released in 1992 – the year I was born!). All bets were off, and I braced myself for some madness.

Hiboux opening for Head Like A Hole at ValhallaHiboux

I’ve been following the Instagram account of local post-rock lads Hiboux, and it is clear that they’ve worked hard recently. With a début album now under their belts, the band have filmed videos, written more music, and are planning an upcoming trans-Tasman tour. They sounded great when I saw them open for Alcest last month, and tonight was just as great.

The lighting guy was having fun trying to destroy my photos, employing far too much red light and working the for machine overtime – two ingredients that serve to foil my camera’s ability. I had fun though, climbing up on the side of a speaker rig to find interesting angles.

If you haven’t heard Hiboux yet, I recommend checking them out. Their hypnotic instrumental tunes cast a spell over Valhalla. It was perhaps a bit sedate at first considering that they were opening for legendary wild men, but later on the set the distortion pedals came to the foray and the headbanging material unleashed. Although their music is well-crafted and exact, fantastic energy brims beneath, making the explosive sections of the songs all the more dynamic.

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Head Like A Hole Valhalla WellingtonHead Like A Hole

Head Like A Hole disbanded when I was eight, meaning that although I’m know of them, they have never been at the forefront of music I listen to. They’ve had their share of play on The Rock radio station, and one of Dad’s friends used to bring HLAH CDs to our family BBQs [related story], so I am familiar with a few hits, but couldn’t say I know any of their albums well. Knowing that they had planned on playing début album 13 on this tour, I’ve listened to it leading up to the show.

13 is snotty punk music: fast, aggressive and fun. It captures the band at the start of their career – slightly naïve, yet with obvious potential. The recordings sound dated –  funky alt-rock Faith No More worship with bright popping drums and wiry guitars – but despite this the album remains a fan favourite.

By comparison, tonight when the band played the 25 year-old songs they sounded full and punchy. Not only did they sound great, but they had brilliant presence. We didn’t see the naked mud men of yesteryear, but the wildness was still evident.

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington

Like their contemporaries Shihad, they’ve taken rock music, added an alternative edge, and perfected the delivery. Frontman Booga Beezley – dressed in black leather and hair dripping with sweat – swung his mic stand around and told self-deprecating stories.

“This song [Penut] was written after a night of dangerous drinking.” He revealed, half proud of himself, half cautioning us. “I woke up at Nigel’s mum’s house, having shit myself. Shit was everywhere: on the walls, on the toilet. There was shit on me. Nights like that define who you are as a person, which is how we manage to write such great songs.”

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Valhalla was as full as I’ve seen it in a year or two, sold out and filled with aging rock fans wanting that taste of their teenage years. The pit up the front was in full swing and a handful of punters tried their hands at stage diving throughout the night – with varying degrees of success.

“We’ve come to that point in the night where we are going to play some radio friendly pop hits”Head Like A Hole Wellington Set List Beezly laughed when the band approached the second half of the set, “who wants to hear some Ed Sheeran?”

Despite never having listened to Head Like A Hole much, I was pleased to learn that I actually knew many of the songs from the second half of the set. “A Crying Shame” was great fun, with a signature trumpet hook played by the woman who had given me my wristband at the start of the night. “Hootenanny” earned cries of excitement, with everyone chanting along to the chorus. A cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” brought the mood down, before the band switched it up a gear to turn it into a rowdy frenzy.

The band members live distributed throughout the North Island these days, but a Wellington show will always be a homecoming gig. I’m glad that I finally managed to see Head Like A Hole live, but I bet that the old fans were even happier than me.

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All words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Nas performing Illmatic at James Cabaret, Wellington

Nas Wellington James Cabaret Illmatic Poster


James Cabaret

Sunday 18 January 2015

Last time Nas played in New Zealand he was touring with Damian Marley promoting their collaborative album Distant Relatives. The time before that he opened for Kanye West.

Nasty Nas, widely considered one of the greatest emcees ever, opening for Kanye? Why wasn’t he headlining? I’d suggest it’s because Kanye gets radio play, and Nas doesn’t.

But fans at the Nas show last night knew better and turned out in force to witness the rap legend in the flesh. Nas may not get the mainstream radio play that Kanye does, but he has still more than earned a loyal following. And two sold out shows was enough to prove it.

And the fans were richly rewarded. Not only did they get to see one of their favourite rappers, but they got to see him perform his most acclaimed album. As advertised, Nas played his groundbreaking début album Illmatic from start to finish, to celebrate its 20th anniversary. DJ Green Lantern oversaw the music and provided backing vocals, while Nas tore through the hit-heavy set.

The setup was fairly unimposing. Nas wore a plain camo green tshirt, a discreet necklace and sunglasses. There was a screen at the back of the stage with videos. But the emphasis wasn’t on showy gimmicks, it was on the music.

The songs from Illmatic were firmly imprinted in the minds of everyone in the audience, most of whom were singing along. They best sing along moment was during “NY York State Of Mind” when everyone shouted “I never sleep, because sleep is the cousin of death!” The crowd had showed up to relive that enduring album, and Nas delivered exactly what they wanted, playing it all, followed by more songs from later in his career.

The set was a trip down nostalgia lane. The Illmatic singles all featured, like “The World Is Yours”, “One Love” and “Halftime”. There was a shout out to the late Michael Jackson for allowing his music to be sampled on “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, as well several other late rappers on “Represent”

The second half of the set was less exciting. Nas gave an impressive cross-section of his career through the ages, but Illmatic was the attraction that had set the benchmark.

Nas clearly loved what he was doing. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ll keep doing it for 20 more, because you guys keep coming back!” he shouted. “I need to keep coming back here more often.”

A number of fans had brought their LP copies of Illmatic to the show and were waving them in the air. “You want me to sign that?” Nas asked, “Help me out and take the plastic off. You got a pen?” After 20 years of touring he still appeared stunned at his fans devotion “A real vinyl record!” he muttered in disbelief as he scrawled his signature on the cover.

My only complaint was that it was extremely hot in the venue. There was no noticeable air conditioning. I was wanting the show to finish half way through the set, just so I could escape the humidity. A sold out gig and a small venue means lots of body heat if going to get generated. Nas himself kept complaining about the heat too, asking the lighting technicians to turn down the onstage lights several times.

No pass outs and no ventilation means no escape from the heat. I wonder if this is a deliberate method of selling more drinks? Apparently it was too hot and crowded at the Run The Jewels/Joey Badass gig the previous week as well, and the gig had been advertised to start far earlier than it actually did, meaning people had been trapped inside with the heat for even longer. If this continues I’ll consider avoiding shows at James Cabaret in the future.

Joseph James.